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6.6.09

It should be about the story, not the reporter

Despite working for a newspaper, I have no formal journalism training, so I can't speak for what they actually teach you in J-school. But it seems like a couple of good rules for writing news -- even entertainment section news -- are: 1) respect your sources, and 2) don't try to be cute; just tell us the story.

Both of those rules were violated by the AP's John Rogers, reporting on the elimination of the "best polka album" Grammy:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It's enough to make any serious polka fan shove his plate of sausage aside, fling his lederhosen in the closet and go out and shed a few tears in his beer.

...

Although posters to Internet sites catering to polka fans (yes, there are such places) were outraged, [18-time winner Jimmy] Sturr, who is hailed by fans the world over as the King of Polka, was doing his best to take the news in stride.


That first sentence should just be dropped completely -- it's a pile of stereotype synecdoche that tells you far more about how clever Rogers thinks he is than about what actually happened. When a reporter falls back on trying to amuse the audience with wordplay, it means one of three things: 1) the reporter can't figure out what's really interesting about the actual story, 2) there isn't anything actually interesting about the story, or 3) the reporter thinks they're more important than the story. That doesn't mean the writing has to be deadly serious, but it does mean the interest has to come from showing us what's actually going on.

The parenthetical in the second bit I quoted is also wholly unnecessary. It creates this conspiratorial tone between the reporter and reader -- #Hey fellow Normals, I know these people are a bunch of freaks. Don't get the crazy idea that I think they're respectable members of society or anything.#

I'm not saying this because polka fans are one of the important oppressed minorities of the world, or because I myself am a big polka fan and therefore took it personally*. But it's still grating to read an article in which the reporter sounds like he thinks he's too cool for all this.

*I realize this sounds a bit like "I'm not gay -- not that there's anything wrong with that!" But I will say that if an equivalent article was written about Scandinavian folk music, I would take it personally.

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